by Gloria J.Browne-Marshall
A raucous mainstream media pretends ‘Black woman in racial attack at RNC’ holds no interest for them. Now, the cover of Spanish magazine Fuera de Serie depicts Michelle Obama as a topless slave woman. The face of the First Lady of the United States was placed on the body of a woman similar to the Portrait d’une Négresse, painted in 1800 by Marie-Guillemine Benoist. These sad attempts to deride Black women simply unmask a stark fear of her power.
For Mrs. Obama, the racial and gender derision began early. The internet is strewn with horrendous racial cartoons of her. FOX News referred to Mrs. Obama, a married woman with two children, as the President’s “Baby Mama.” Yet, she was accused of being un-American when she said, following the election, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” Her statement acknowledged the reality of most African Americans.
When Patricia Carroll, 34, a female African American camera-operator at the Republican National Convention became a victim of a racial attack by two male White Republican delegates the media’s response was silence. The two men said “this is how we feed the animals” while throwing peanuts at Carroll. Carroll asked, “Have you lost your damn mind?” The answer is yes.
Patricia Carroll may have sought silence. She did not ask to be at the center of a racial and gender controversial. Carroll is a Black woman operating a camera for an international news organization. It is a male-dominated job. Perhaps she is the only African- American in that position. Silence would allow Carroll to appear strong and capable of taking the hard blows without flinching. However, silence will not protect here.
During enslavement in America when Black women had no option but silence, it offered little solace. Upon gaining freedom, Black women wrote books and essays depicting their experience as concubines and laborers. They went on speaking tours to pry away the belief Black women were happily enslaved. A Black woman’s experience portrays the glory and burden of both race and gender. She can speak of power and powerlessness.
Women’s groups are silent. One would expect feminists groups to condemn the defilement of the First Lady as well as the racial attack on Patricia Carroll. Black women have grown tired of asking White feminists “ain’t I a woman?” Incidents involving Black women bring to light differences in perspective between Black women and their wellmeaning White female peers.
One White female writer for the Huffington Post and Gloss blogs first stated the doctored slave image was horrible. But, then went on to say: “What better way to show how horrible slavery was (and how horrible racism continues to be) than by putting a recognizable face on its victims?” Other media responses include disrespectful, lack of taste, and poor editorial judgment. As if outrage is inappropriate.
Too often, Black women remain silent on the job because they are the sole breadwinner. Based on the U.S. Census, Black women have the lowest marriage rate. Over 70 percent of Black children live in single parent households. Finding and maintaining employment is paramount. Silence may be the price of economic survivor. However, that silence may cause depression, stress, alcohol abuse, obesity, and high blood pressure. Silence about racial or sexual harassment may equal death.
Although these recent attacks are child-like in thought and deed the effect can be devastating if left unanswered. From Maria Johnson in the 1600s to Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Angela Davis today, the Black woman’s journey in America has been a remarkable one. The offenses of racial injustice and gender stereotypes she must deflect on a daily basis are immense.
Yet, the power of Black- American womanhood was created from that crucible of racial and gender brutality. Whatever its source, that power should be a point of pride for African-Americans. Michelle Obama epitomizes this power. So does Patricia Carroll and all other African- American women. Negative depictions and racial attacks only reveal how some people are intimidated to the point of ignorance. Others are even blinded by it.
It is up to Black women to embrace their power. That means addressing the challenges that come with it. Silence is not the answer.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present,” “The U.S. Constitution: An African-American Context,” and a journalist covering the U.S. Supreme Court and political issues. Her upcoming book is: “Black Women and the Law.”